Archive for Physics Hall

Welcome to the First Year

Posted in Education, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on September 27, 2021 by telescoper

Well this morning I had my first lecture to the new first-year students on their first day of teaching at Maynooth University. It went fairly well, and my improvised attempts to record the lecture for the students were reasonably successful too.

When I started at about 11.05am I was a little disappointed that I only had around two-thirds of the number I expected, but I assumed that was that students had difficulty locating the venue, Physics Hall. Not unreasonably quite a few new students assume that this is in the Science Building on the North Campus where the Physics staff are based. In fact Physics Hall is on the much more scenic South Campus, which is quite a distance from the Science Building which usually means that some newbies arrive late as a result of going to the wrong venue.

Incidentally, here is a view of Physics Hall from the front taken in 2012 at a Mathematics Lecture by Tim Gowers. The hall hasn’t changed much since then!

I like this room because (a) it has good blackboards at the front and (b) although a reasonable size there is not a huge distance from the lecturer to the back of the audience so everyone can see and hear the lecturer, and can be heard by the lecturer if they ask something.

Anyway, the first lecture was very introductory so late students weren’t going to miss anything earth-shattering, and in any case I was recording it, so I started on time. After talking for over half an hour someone – a theoretical physics PhD student – came in to the hall and explained that about half the class had been standing outside thinking I hadn’t turned up because the door was closed. Why they didn’t try the handle and have a look inside I don’t know! When the latecomers had all filed in and found a seat I had roughly the number I had initially expected so all was well. I explained to them that they shouldn’t stand on ceremony next time.

It did occur to me that this year’s new students have a pretty good reason for not knowing where anything is on campus is that for many of them today is the first day they’ve ever been herein Maynooth. Open days last year were all virtual, for example. It must feel very strange to commit to a four-year degree at a University you’ve never even visited before, but that’s what this cohort of students have been forced to do.

One of the things I tend to do in the first lecture is to explain that I do like to have interaction in my lectures and it was nice to find that quite a few people did answer when I asked questions. Lectures are so dull if it’s just an old fart blathering on for 50 minutes. The capacity of Physics Hall is about 90, which is not huge, but interaction is possible in much bigger rooms if you work to create the right atmosphere.

Giving students the encouragement to get involved is also helpful to the lecturer, as students will then be more willing to point out errors on the blackboard (which, of course, I put in deliberately to see if they’re paying attention). After today I have a pretty good feeling about this new class and I’m looking forward to seeing them for Lecture 2 tomorrow.

Oh, and the instruction that masks are mandatory in lectures was observed impeccably by the students.